How to Be Better Prepared for Your Next Major Presentation

“Hi. My name is Michael, and I’m a prepaholic.” If there was a support group for people who over-prepare, I would be a charter member.

A Microphone Stand in Front of an Out of Focus Audience - Photo courtesy of ©, Image #15805678

Photo courtesy of ©

In my prior role as a CEO, much of my job involved making presentations—to boards, banks, investors, authors, agents, customers, employees, vendors, the media—you name it. Now, as a professional speaker, it represents most of my life. Each one of these engagements is an opportunity to connect with the audience and make a good “brand impression—or a bad one.

I’m not sure where I learned to prepare for these meetings. I’m sure much of it comes from my desire to exceed people’s expectations or perhaps, negatively, out of a fear of being embarrassed. Regardless, it drives me to prepare relentlessly.

Recently, I had a big presentation in New York. The night before, I was talking with my oldest daughter. When I told her how much time I had spent preparing she laughed. “Dad, you so over-prepare. You always do a great job. Why don’t you just relax and learn to trust that.”

I thought for a minute and then replied, “The reason I do a good job is because I prepare. I don’t believe in ‘winging it’.”

As I’ve thought about it, I think there are seven levels to preparation. Most people focus exclusively on the first level. In fact, few people get beyond this level. But if you want to be a better presenter, you have to get better at preparation. I don’t know of any shortcuts.

  1. Prepare the Presentation. Though this is probably the most time consuming part, it is the easiest. Everyone does this to one degree or another. But the key to doing it well is to determine at the outset exactly what you want people to take away.

    So many presentations are really just random collections of bulleted lists. (Sadly, this is the dark side of presentation software like PowerPoint.) There’s no story-line. There’s no flow. There’s not even an argument.

    No wonder people listening to these kinds of presentations daydream, check their smart phone, or nod off. The presenter tries to communicate everything and ends up communicating nothing.

    Instead, I use the SCORRE method (which we teach at The SCORRE Conference) to decide on my objective statement. I then create the outline or rationale.

    For example, in my speech last week, the sponsor wanted me to speak on “How to Shave Ten Hours Off Your Work Week.” My objective statement was:

    Everyone can shave at least ten hours off their work week by implementing these seven strategies.

    This sets up an enabling speech (as opposed to a persuasive speech) that explains how to to something—in this case reducing your workload.

    Once I had the objective statement, all I needed to do was “unpack” it and expound on the seven strategies. These became my outline:

    • Strategy 1: Limit your time online.
    • Strategy 2: Touch emails once—and only once.
    • Strategy 3: Implement the two-minute rule.
    • Strategy 4: Triage your calendar.
    • Strategy 5: Schedule time in the “alone zone.”
    • Strategy 6: Practice the art of non-finishing.
    • Strategy 7: Engage in a weekly review process.

    I started by playing the famous “Let ’Er Roll” episode from I Love Lucy. I then stated a version of my objective statement and worked through my outline. Simple, straightforward, and effective.

  2. Prepare the Setting. The presentation setting will either enhance or detract from your presentation. The setting is to a presentation what a stage or a set is to a theater production. When you can control it, you need to think through the details. For example:
    • What AV equipment will you use?
    • Will it accommodate your specific computer?
    • Will you use a remote slide controller or will you just use the computer’s space bar?
    • Will the projector be bright enough for the room and the lighting?
    • Will there be a stage, a board-room table, or a small conference room?
    • How should the chairs be arranged?
    • Will you stand-up or sit down?

    These are just a few of the literally scores of questions you should—and must—ask. As someone once said, “love is in the details.” The more you can control these seemingly little variables, the more likely your presentation will have the impact you desire.

    But what happens when you can’t control the setting? Then you need to do the best you can with what you have. My own preference is to opt for the setting that gives me the most control.

    For example, in last week’s presentation, I was on unfamiliar turf. I was in someone else’s space. That’s why I always have a pre-conference call to discuss with the sponsor what I will need to make the best possible presentation. This by itself heads off 95% of all the problems I used to encounter.

    As it turned out, we couldn’t get the audio to work. However, we were able to quickly work out a solution and try it before the audience arrived.

  3. Prepare the Audience. This begins by discovering what the audience expects. If you don’t know, try to do some research before the meeting. I ask the meeting’s organizer or sponsor exactly what they hope to accomplish.

    Several years ago, I brought John Maxwell, one of our authors, in to speak to our employees. John is the consummate communicator. He is also relentless about preparing.

    The first thing he said was this: “Mike, I know this is an important meeting for you. What would it take for me to hit the ball out of the park? How would you describe the best outcome you could imagine?”

    I said, “I want people leaving the meeting believing they can accomplish something heroic.”

    He replied, “Got it.” And, he did. He totally delivered. But it began by taking the time to understand what I wanted to accomplish. I try to do this in my pre-conference calls.

    Part of preparing the audience also involves setting their expectations. You can do this in the meeting invitation, the agenda, or just a brief here’s-why-we’re-here statement at the beginning of the meeting.

    Also, if it’s a board meeting or other political situation, it is also helpful to “pre-sell” your project to key stakeholders before you get in a room, present your idea, and have the tide turn against you. I have learned this the hard way. If you prep a few key players and make sure you have their support, they can actually help you do the selling in the meeting.

  4. Prepare Yourself. I don’t know about you, but I have to do serious mental preparation before every presentation. When I first started out making presentations, I was scared to death. I would literally shake.

    I had cold, sweaty hands and a dry mouth. I would sometimes go into the restroom before I spoke and rub my hands together hard just to get them to warm up! I was embarrassed to shake anyone’s hand.

    Gratefully, that has worn off over the years. Speaking has become much less stressful. But it still creates some anxiety. A couple of things have helped me:

    • Get a good night’s sleep the night before and important speech or meeting.
    • Don’t schedule anything before the meeting. I get very focused before I speak, and I literally can’t think about anything else.
    • Watch my nutrition. Don’t drink too much caffeine or eat too many high glycemic carbs. These disturb my blood chemistry and can make me light-headed or hyper.
    • Get in a quiet place and rehearse my speech, on my feet, out loud.
    • Close my eyes and consciously relax all my major muscle groups.
    • Pray about the speech. Pray for the audience. Pray for my delivery. Pray about everything. This has a very calming effect on me. It helps me remember that there is usually a higher purpose and that I am not alone.
    • Take control of the narrative in my head and think positive, empowering thoughts.
  5. Prepare the Collateral Material. Generally, I don’t like handouts. I especially don’t like to provide a printed copy of my presentation deck. I think it’s a distraction. I hate to see people flipping ahead and not paying attention to what I am saying.

    Part of this is that I have a theory about presentations. It’s this: I am the presenter. Not the slideshow and not the handouts. Those things are there to enhance or augment what I have to say. I never give them center stage.

    If I am going to handout notes, I like to tell people upfront. Sometimes people can get frustrated trying to write down everything you are saying or showing on your slides. People learn best when they are relaxed and caught up in the moment. You want as few distractions as possible.

    If the meeting is really important, pay attention to how the handouts are formatted and packaged. Several times I have spent thousands of dollars to design the “killer proposal.” These were always when the stakes were high, and I really wanted to “wow” the prospect. Almost always, this was a good investment. My philosophy is “play to win” or as a friend of mine says, “go big or go home.”

    For many presentations, you can spend a few hundred dollars and get something really impressive. Or, as an alternative, scour the Web and find the right template. There are scores of sites that specialize in providing just these kinds of tools.

  6. Prepare for Questions. Many of my presentations are followed by a Q&A session. I do pretty good on my feet, but if the meeting is important, I like to write out every question and objection I can think of and then write an answer or a set of “talking points.”

    When my first book was published, I did more than a thousand radio and television interviews. I got lots of practice answering questions. But I’ll never forget my first radio interview. By that time, I had grown accustomed to public speaking, but I had never done a live radio interview. Once again, I was terrified.

    Before the interview, I prepared a “briefing book.” I spent days writing out every question and every objection I could think of. Then I categorized them by topic, printed them out, and put them in a notebook with tab dividers.

    Whenever I was asked a question, I would simply flip to the tab and start reciting the relevant talking points and statistics. It looked like I had mastered the material but it was really all about preparing the material and knowing how to get to it when I needed it.

    When Thomas Nelson was a public company, and I had just become the new CEO, I had to lead our quarterly conference call with institutional investors and analysts. I usually had key members of my team present.

    Several days before the call, I would have them think of all the questions we might get asked. Then I would assign them out to the appropriate person to research. During the call, when a question would come up, I would point to the executive who had prepared for that question. It was very effective, and we always looked like we were on top of our business.

  7. Prepare for Next Time. The best time to prepare for the next meeting is right after the last one. You should do this when everything is still fresh in your memory. At the very least, I always try to jot down as many notes as I can. I consider this a sort of personal debriefing session. I ask, Okay. What worked? What do I want to make sure I do again? What didn’t work so well? What do I want to make sure that I don’t do again?

    The best way to do this is to ask the people closest to you for their candid assessment. You have to give people permission to be honest. Make it safe—don’t be defensive. Otherwise, they will just tell you you were great and you will never improve.

    Instead, you want honest, specific feedback. You don’t have to act on every suggestion but you need to carefully consider every suggestion. You need to also thank people for their feedback and affirm how helpful it is to you. If you do so, people will get bolder about sharing it, which is exactly what you want.

    I can always count on my wife, Gail, to shoot straight. She gives me the “good, the bad, and the ugly.” Unfortunately, she can’t be at every presentation I give. So I have to count on my others to tell me the truth.

    My manager also sends a survey to even event sponsor, so we get their candid feedback. I want to know how I can improve!

So, those are the seven levels of preparation. If you want to become an excellent presenter, you have to move past the first one and take control of all seven. This is best way to ensure that your presentation makes the impact you desire.

Question: How do you prepare for a major presentation? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • Katie

    I love your product reviews – are you ever going to do one for the new Kindle Fire?

    • Michael Hyatt

      Yes, I am planning on it. I just need another week or so using it.

  • Chris Patton

    Excellent detailed coverage of this topic!  I am clipping it to Evernote.

    I do have one correction to make…you mentioned in #6 Prepare for Questions that you “always looked like we were on top of our business.”

    The truth is that you WERE on top of your business as a result of the preparation for the questions!  While this may seem minor, I think there is a major point here.  

    The very act of preparing for a presentation is a learning experience for the presenter.  I have never fully prepared to teach or speak where I did not learn something in the process.  In fact, a great way to have someone learn a lesson or about a topic is to have them do a presentation on it.

    As you and your team prepared for regular board presentations, your research for the potential questions was actually part of staying on top of your business!  Don’t you agree?

    • Michael Hyatt

      Yep, very good point. Thanks.

  • Joe Lalonde

    Excellent information Michael!

    This is something for me to chew on. I am a “winger.” In past presentations, I have had an understanding of what I would talk about but I would not prepare. This caused a few hiccups and mistakes.

    I’ll be studying this to improve my preparation. Thanks again for sharing this information.

    • Brandon Weldy

      I have difficulty disciplining myself to be as prepared as I should be. I have noticed a great improvement from winging it to preparing though and I love the change!

      • Joe Lalonde

        Great to hear Brandon. Next time I have a presentation, I plan on preparing because of Michael’s post. We will see how it goes.

  • Sue

    Where was this post last week when I delivered a satisfactory but flat 3 hour presentation?  I am proof that preparation (or lack thereof) makes all the difference!

  • Charlie Lyons

    Excellent points, Michael. Very detailed. I appreciate it so much. Thank you.

  • Cyberquill

    Perhaps you should join a presentation improv club. 

  • Paul B Evans


    Every speaker should Evernote or bookmark this post. Awesome!

    As far as how I prepare…

    Everything is “predictive preparation” in my mind.

    Whether it’s an opening, serious story, crying story, funny story, statistic, punch point, dive point, pitch point, challenge, inspiration, motivation or infuriation I see and feel the emotion of the audience ahead of time (at least 80% because all audiences within a culture tend to react the same.)

    This helps me become extremely present while presenting. I know what the reaction will be ahead of  time and use it as momentum through the presentation.

    We’ve all seen the speaker who was so into his material that he didn’t realize the audience was asleep! :) I’m striving for the opposite of that.

    Being predictive helps my awareness during the presentation itself.

    But there is a downside.

    I so react to the spontaneity of the audience that’s it’s tough to translate that to the training videos I do from home. I’ve had people watching my online tutorials for years then when they come to a live event they say, “Wow! I had no idea you were so funny! That was hilarious!” 

    Oh, well. :)

    Happy Thanksgiving!

    • Michael Hyatt

      I try to do that, too, Paul. What I have found is that the better prepared I am, the more I can get off-track with confidence and then jump back on when I am ready. It’s one of my favorite things about speaking.

    • Robert Ewoldt

      What’s the Mark Twain quote?  “It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech?”

      Ironic, but true.  The more you prepare your content, your stories, your jokes, the more they will come off well, and the more you can bring them up later in an impromptu speech. :)

    • Minister Dangerfield

      I now try to create different pieces to my presentation that will help all different type of learners in my audience! Some ppl are visual! I have found also with the younger age that they are gonna get distracted no matter how great of a speaker you are so now I actually create distractions that will go with my overall message!

  • Jacqui Gatehouse

    Hej Michael, great post.  I always say that when you’re preparing for a presentation you should think of it like a woman that wears make-up.  You want to put on enough that your performance looks fantastic, but you still want to keep that natural look!  The other thing that jumps into my mind is you have covered a lot of points which might seem like a significant weight to add to your workload to some people.  But the trick is that as you become an accomplished presenter some of these tasks take only a few minutes to complete and as you said, some you can actually delegate to others.

  • TCAvey

    Very thorough.  Great post, can’t think of anything to add.  

  • Ben Patterson

    Thanks for pulling back the curtain on your presentation preparation. Writing down every question and the accompanying answer is an incredible task. I haven’t even thought of doing that.

    • Michael Hyatt

      It’s not necessary for every presentation, but it makes sense if the content is technical or, in my case, financial.

      • Ben Patterson

        That makes sense. Thanks for sharing.

  • Eric S. Mueller

    Awesome advice, Michael. I wish more presenters would follow it. I want to punch a hole in the wall every time I have to go to training or a presentation, the presenter walks in just about on time, can’t get his laptop to work with the projector, and makes some silly crack about “You just can’t depend on technology”. I want to pull him aside and say “Yes, you can depend on technology if you show up a few minutes early and make sure your laptop works with the projector, or bring your own.”

    One time a presenter blamed technology because he left his slides on his organization’s shared drive and didn’t think to check if he could access his network through the network in the room he presented in. Yeah, that’s the fault of “technology”. 

    For some reason, I’ve always enjoyed public speaking. I’m rarely afraid of it. Last week I took a class, where I had to give a group presentation on social media. The other two people on my team had no experience, but out of the entire class, I was most knowledgeable on the subject. I had a lot of fun, and ended up suggesting ways for them to set social media policy in their organization. One person said “I don’t want people wasting our time on Facebook!” I quoted Jason Fried’s TED presentation where he said “Facebook is the new smoke break”. I had so much fun doing that presentation.

    What do you think about advice to always have fewer seats in the room than the expected crowd? Like 400 seats for 500 people. I always thought it was a sleazy sales tactic, but I recently saw that advice on the blog of someone I think is reputable.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Thanks for your comments. I have quoted Fried on that point, too.

      I definitely like a full room, but I have never intentionally set it for fewer people than I expected. I think that could look pretty contrived, especially if the room could accommodate the extra seats.
      Thanks again.

    • Anonymous

      Eric, after reading your comment, I googled and found the Jason Fried presentation you were referring to.

      Very interesting perspective!

      Thanks for sharing!

  • John Richardson

    Wow Michael, your best instructive post yet. This is a powerful guide to speaking that every speaker or presenter should go through before they go on stage. One thing you might add, is to prepare for a technical failure. If the projector bulb goes out or your laptop goes down, you’ll need a contingency plan. If you know your material well, you should be able to pull out an outline and present without slides. If slides are a key part of the presentation, you might want to have them printed on large sheets of paper, so you could put them up on an easel one by one.

    I was at a National Speakers Association event a few years back and one of the top speakers brought up her laptop to hook to the projector. No matter what the technical guys did, they couldn’t get the laptop to sync with the projector. After five minutes of fussing, she calmly walked up and thanked the technician for his help and turned off the projector. She reached into her carry-on and pulled out a handful of printed slides. She instructed her audience to move in closer, and she did her presentation slide by slide, placing the printed slides on a display easel. She had the slides in order, face down on a table in front of her, and they were marked on the back what they were. She spoke to the audience and smoothly pulled the slides up one by one. She did an amazing job, because she had practiced for just such an occasion.

    What could have been a disaster, actually turned out better than her planned presentation, since the audience had moved in and they were definitely rooting her on. In Toastmasters, I’ve had occasions where the technology doesn’t work. I usually just give the speech without it, but I’ve also created a backup notebook presenter that has my printed slides in a three ring binder. I just hang my binder over the side of the lectern and pull my printed slides over one by one. The binder keeps the slides in order and makes for a relatively smooth presentation in a pinch.

    Thanks for reminding us Michael of that old Boy Scout Motto… be prepared!

    • Michael Hyatt

      This is a good point, John. I always bring a printed copy of my notes and a PDF of my slides, so that I can run them on any projector. For me, my slides are always ancillary, so if I don’t have them, the show can go on. In fact, more and more, I am leaning toward no slides at all. I think they often get in the way. But that’s another post.
      Thanks for your input!

      • John Richardson

        I did a post today about the difference between giving a speech and giving a Powerpoint presentation and what really goes on in your mind. Adding Powerpoint really adds a lot of complexity.

        • Michael Hyatt

          The best speakers I know (with the exception of Steve Jobs) don’t use it or have someone else running the slides, so that they can focus on speaking.

        • Robert Ewoldt

          I find it really annoying when the speaker reads directly from the PowerPoint slides.  If the PowerPoint slides can say it all, let the PowerPoint say everything.  I think that PowerPoint should be complimentary data to the speaker, and shouldn’t necessarily drive what the speaker is saying.

  • Jmalcolm

    This is an excellent article. I appreciate the thoughtfulness and the detail. I would suggest a very important step that you did not cover, though: rehearsal. In my own experience, no matter how good something looks on paper, it always sounds different when you first say it, and it can always be improved. I like to rehearse often, in conditions as close as possible to the real thing. During rehearsals, I will also impose a time discipline on myself, and if I can’t get feedback from others, I will videotape myself to see how it looks and then make corrections as necessary.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I totally agree. Thanks.

      I actually covered this under #4: “Get in a quiet place and rehearse my speech, on my feet, out loud.” I also linked to a post I had written previously on this topic: “How to Improve Your Public Speaking by Practicing Out Loud.”

  • Patrick Allmond

    I learned these from some local musical theatre performers: 

    Under Prepare Yourself:

    1. Nothing cold/hot, dairy, or sugary before a presentation. All three do things that coat and disrupt the vocal cords.

    2. Warm up your voice. Rehearsing your speech is good way to prepare for what you are going to say. But you need to talk out loud at your speaking volume and/or sing before a presentation. Your vocal needs to get good and warmed up. It is not uncommon for me sing in the car on the way to the venue.  I don’t yell or do anything to overstress my vocal cords. But you don’t want the time you step on stage to be the first time in the day that you have really used those pipes. That is how you end up with coughing and other odd thing that will happen that affect the quality of your voice. 

    3. Do the physical work needed to prep your body. Stretching and flexing are important. I like to be very animated and use by body a lot during a presentation. And like #2 above I don’t want on stage to be the first time I’ve cracked a knuckle or stressed a muscle. Make sure your roll your head around in both directions to get all of the kinks out. 

    • Michael Hyatt

      All good suggestions. I have gone vegan for a season with occasional fish. I have noticed way less mucus as a result of cutting out dairy. This has been helpful in my speaking, to be sure.

  • Kelly Combs

    Great post. It is always exciting to me to read posts like this and see what things I have already been doing intuitively, and what things I need to work on.  The one area I could work on is preparing the audience, but that isn’t always easy as a women’s ministry speaker.  My last event had women from age 20-91!  That is a diverse range. But overall, I’m proud to say I scored well on your check list.  Thanks for sharing it!

  • Brett

    Thanks–great stuff.  I’ve been thinking so much about how to be more thorough in planning my sales presentations, which often are small, informal presentations to 1 to 3 individuals. Still, if I prepped further than expected, I know the rewards will come.

    On this topic, I just read a book called Pitch Anything by Oren Klaff. Are you familiar? If so, thoughts?

    • Brett

      Also, I’d love to hear the speech referenced in item 1!

    • Michael Hyatt

      No, I don’t know this book. I’ll have to check it out. Thanks.

  • Paul Kandavalli

    Michael,Excellent article with great details. Thank you very much for sharing. I wrote an article recently on “Effective Training” based on my experiences with presenting live training sessions as well as through TelePresence technology. I feel affirmed after reading your article. Here is the link to my article “”I honestly believe that “The main thing is that as a trainer you must feel that you have given your audiences the best you can. The audience must feel that their time was well spent and should feel that they are benefited by the training. Important thing here is that the trainer must believe in what he is training. A person cannot give something that he does not have or believe.”Happy Thanksgiving!Paul Kandavalli

  • Becky Smith

    As a  15-year veteran of a full time, mobile music ministry with several thousand performances under our belt, I could tell many stories of times we got up to sing and/or speak and mikes fizzled, equipment glitched,  and keyboards  gave up the ghost.   (Even after doing all the preparation we possibly could.)  

    At times like that we had a mantra we used among ourselves which was, “Enjoy your mistakes.”I know that each of us reading this blog tries to prepare as much as we  possibly can for public presentations but the best prep in the world isn’t 100% foolproof.  And so when the unwelcome unexpected happened back in those traveling days, we learned to roll with it and to even have fun with it. We understood that when the performer/presenter gets tense, the whole audience gets tense. And when the audience gets tense, it’s pretty much downhill from there.   Having said all that, I want to add that this post was amazingly helpful.  I have never once been disappointed when reading one of your articles; your life experience and  your willingness to invest in others is such a gift.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Tanks for your kind words, Becky. I totally agree with your attitude. When the unexpected happens, I like to ask, “What does this make possible?”

  • Craig Grella

    This is, by far, the best material I’ve read on preparing for presentations. I too try to get information from the client before the presentation. I don’t do nearly as many presentations as you do, but I’ve found that sometimes the client isn’t sure what he wants, or he wants too much and isn’t able to distill those needs into something on which I can focus the presentation. 

    Do you have any advice on how to bridge that gap? Is it best to poll the audience in the beginning of the presentation – or to work it in during your presentation and then change your topic points on the fly to better suit what you think they want to hear?

    • Michael Hyatt

      I think the key is to schedule a pre-event call and run through a list of standard questions. Here’s my list, which is an Evernote template.

      • Craig Grella

        Thanks Michael, this is a big help. I appreciate the link.

  • Liz

    When I have an important presentation to do I will usually ask someone to watch me practice and offer feedback.  I’ve even gone so far as to hire a speech coach for a couple of hours to help me nail down the presentation.  This step has really helped me polish my delivery. 

    • Brandon Weldy

      Having someone listen to me makes me nervous. That may not make much sense but I don’t like to be critiqued. I am getting much better about this, especially when I realized that my audience is also probably critiquing me, and it is better to have that done before the presentation to get out all the kinks!

    • Robert Ewoldt

      When possible, I think that this is a great idea.  Have your spouse critique you, or someone you trust.  This can greatly increase your effectiveness.

  • Brandon Weldy

    I do really great at preparing the presentation and preparing myself. I have not used the SCORRE method, although I am considering it. I never plan anything before a presentation and I always go somewhere quite and practice it before I present. It allows me to relax. I then know I really do know my material and the quiet helps relax my body. I am not nearly as tense. Even when I get up on stage to present I can call back those thoughts and feelings so I can move through my presentation with ease.

  • Rob Still

    Wow Michael this is one of the finest articles on presentation I’ve ever read. Very practical and wise. Thank you!

    One thing I might add is “Visualize” . Use the imagination to rehearse the outcome in your mind. See people responding positively, see yourself delivering high value.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Visualization is a great suggestion! Thanks.

  • Anonymous

    Very good tips!  Thanks, Michael!

  • Anonymous

    Great thoughts… Especially with the thoughts on handouts. I also think this comes into play with the use of media now since it is so easy to use videos in presentations. I have run into a lot of people who will use a video for the sake of using a video even when it does not fit. To many people create distractions while they are speaking. Use the same background and font through out my entire presentation or sermon. Create something that looks nice not flashy. You want people to listen to you and not watching all the “cool” text animations, and different backgrounds. A great visual presentation is seen but not noticed!

    • Brandon Weldy

      I struggle with going from being boring to going over the top. I have to work very hard on my preparation to find a nice middle ground.

  • meeklabs

    You know, reading this, I realized a lot of this also applies to interviewing people for jobs or for guest videos.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Yep. I think it does.

    • Robert Ewoldt

      Absolutely.  When you interview for a job, you ought to research the company beforehand, and prepare for any and all questions that you might be asked.  Great thought!

  • Anonymous

    I find that when my wife has grown tired of watching me rehearse a presentation (I can tell when her eyes begin to glaze over) that the dog makes a great audience. Stick a biscuit in your pocket, place the dog on a chair, and they make a very attentive audience. Although my humor seems to be lost on my dog.

    • http://www.SevenPillarsOfSuccess.Net Louise Thaxton

      Dennis – I had to laugh!  Years ago, my teenage children did a “concert” on a trampoline in the back yard – with curling irons for microphones, brooms for guitars, and pots for drums.  And they had lawn chairs arranged  so the two dogs could sit and watch!  and they did!  Your post reminded me of that!

      • Anonymous

        You gotta love dogs!

        • http://www.SevenPillarsOfSuccess.Net Louise Thaxton

          We filmed it (it was in the mid 80’s) – and still laugh OUTLOUD watching those dogs sit in those chairs with the music blaring (something heavy metal- and they are just staring with adoration….!  And yes gotta love ‘em!

  • David Teems

    This is just the medication I have needed. I have written 4 books in 2 years (350k words). Now I am obligated to go out and sell them. I haven’t been on the road in a few years. I am fairly at home before an audience, and yet with the time lapse and all the seclusion books demand, I’m both excited and petrified at the same time. Thanks for this post. It has something concrete with which I can find my legs again.  

  • Paul Cahill

    I am very glad I read this post. It is so easy to lose sight of the importance of preparation when you are busy. This was an excellent reminder to prioritize preparation. 

  • Amy Storms

    I am just beginning to speak for women’s events, so this post is very timely and helpful for me. As are all your posts. :) Thanks!

  • elise

    In both writing and speaking, I think the one point (objective) focus is a key. I have many times tried to cover too many points…it just doesn’t work. Throughout the process of preparation or writing, I have to keep asking, “What’s your point?” or “Does this effectively support it?”
    Excellent, helpful post. I appreciate the clarity of your objective statement. And love the 7 Strategies. Simple (not easy) and to the point. Would love to hear that presentation.
    Thanks for your generosity. Happy Thanksgiving!

  • Matheus Godoy

    Nice tips! Thanks!

  • Anonymous

    Wow! Outstanding post. Very thorough. Very sound advice.

    Here are some things I learned from a brief stint at stand-up comedy in the 80’s. I learned more about public speaking from my stand-up experience than from any other source.

    1) The most important skill of a stand-up comic is ‘taking over the room’ in the first 30 seconds — that is, making the audience want to watch and listen. The comic does this not by telling great jokes, but by establishing, through attitude and body language, what I’d call a “charismatic authority.” It took me 6 months to understand and master this. Established comics don’t need to do this, because they audience knows who they are and are there to enjoy them. Beginners must learn this skill. This is also something speakers must know. I break this down in to these parts:

    2) Second thing I learned — what I’m doing isn’t about me. It’s about the audience. The greatest joke in the world, told in the funniest way, isn’t as good as a comic observation that creates an empathetic bond with the audience. This is the secret of Bill Cosby’s comedy. “Yeah! I can relate to that.” It’s all about the audience. The point is to cause them to be moved and changed.

    3) Third thing — subtle, but profound. (This could be seen as a version of #2) David Letterman once said that he never  understood stand-up until he saw Jay Leno do it in the mid 1970’s. “Oh, I see,” said Letterman. “Stand up isn’t a guy telling jokes to a crowd. It’s a ‘hip friend’
    entertaining his other hip friends.’ “I’m one of you — aren’t we great?” 

    Great comics…and great singers and actors “invite you to sit at their campfire.” One of the reasons Leno is more successful than Letterman, even though every comic I know considers Letterman the superior craftsman (better jokes, funnier attitude, less pandering, etc.) is because Leno is the MASTER of making everyone feel part of his act.

    What I prepare a presentation, I ponder all these things. How am I going to get their attention in the first 30 seconds, so that they understand they’ve got something at stake by listening to me? What’s in this for them? How can I include every single person in the room in my presentation, like Leno does…and Springsteen…and Bill Cosby?

    Thanks again!

    • http://www.SevenPillarsOfSuccess.Net Louise Thaxton

      Wow – great advice, Rich!

  • Kari

    My preparation time for a presentation is filled with a lot, and I do mean a lot, of research. I’m also a big planner and start WAY ahead of time planning for presentations. When I do these things, I find that ideas just sort of come to me when I’m least expecting them. That’s a lot of fun! Also, being organized is a huge part of a good presentation. When I taught English many years ago, the one comment I received often from my students is that I was organized and that they appreciated that fact. I’d like to say being organized is for the benefit of those on the receiving end of my presentation, but it’s really not. Being organized keeps me sane. I feel more in control.

  • Jeff Randleman

    Great information!  As a minister, I “present” on a weekly basis, sometimes more.  For me, the routine is key.  I know what I need to do on Monday to be ready on time, and then on Tuesday, Wednesday, etc.  I get thrown off a bit when I have to change locations, but not as much as I used to.

    • Brandon Weldy

      Routine has been one of my best friends in preparing lessons and sermons!

  • Rob Sorbo

    Before I read this article, I thought for sure I’d fall into the “winging-it” category, but I always at least do #1, 2, and parts of 4. Based on these instructions, I’m scared to see what a “winging-it” speech looks like now!

  • Lisa Brouwer

    I spend lots of time organizing my thoughts which translate into a slideshow (with as few words as possible – I hate bullet points) which I then practice outloud, on my feet at least 3 times before delivery.

    Do you have something you fill out and keep for yourself after you deliver the presentation?  Notes as to what you think went well and what you could have done differently?

    (I learned Ken’s method but need to put it into practice so I don’t get off track.)

    Thanks for always keeping us on the top of our game!

  • Stephanie @ Kick-Ass Wife

    I am not a presenter the way you are, but I am a professional musician so I know exactly what you mean when you talk about the 7 layers of preparation.  It is never enough to just learn the music.  There are musical ways to communicate better with an audience, and ways to create a setting with your attire and how you act.  And the nerves, well it seems everyone has their own preparation to deal with that.  I pray and basically say ” I have done my best to prepare, God take it from here”.  It helps me see the bigger picture of performance and that I want to affect lives not shine for myself only.

  • tonychung

    Michael: Thank you so much for recognizing PowerPoint as a serious impediment to great presentations. When bullet lists are so easy to create the result is that every presentation becomes a collection of them. There is a great book called Beyond Bullet Points that talks about presenting through a story, or series of vignettes. These are always engaging presentations to watch.

    Also, thank you for sharing the story about John C. Maxwell, whose work I admire. It already takes an inspirational leader like yourself to ask a presenter to influence a group to “perform something heroic.” But only an experienced presenter could launch from such an abstract statement into a presentation that makes it happen.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Beyond Bullet Points was one of the first books I read years ago when I started using PowerPoint. It was a huge paradigm shift for me. Thanks.

    • TNeal

      I agree about John Maxwell. He’s an excellent communicator. I read his book “Everyone Communicates, Few Connect” right before traveling to the Middle East. I applied his wisdom as I prepared to speak in a cross-cultural setting. I asked more questions than usual in order to contextualize my message in an Arabic setting. That’s when other people’s expertise and lots of prayer really make an enormous difference.

  • Patricia Zell

    Before I comment on your post, I want to thank God that my husband came home today–it’s been three months since his open heart surgery and God’s faithfulness has carried us through this extended trial!

    As a teacher, I give “presentations” every day; however, before I ever speak outside of the classroom, I’m going to need education. I’ll start right here with this post and the others you have written on the topic of speaking. I do realize that for my book to reach as many people as possible to encourage them in God’s absolute love, I’m going to have to put myself and my message out there. I’m asking God to give me direction (as you alluded to, prayer is such a good place to start) to get myself ready and to open doors so I can reach out to readers.

    Have a happy and blessed Thanksgiving!

    • Michael Hyatt

      Congratulations on your husband coming home, Patricia. I know you must feel very, very thankful.

    • http://www.SevenPillarsOfSuccess.Net Louise Thaxton

      God bless you and I know you are thankful for your husband’s homecoming at Thanksgiving!

  • http://www.SevenPillarsOfSuccess.Net Louise Thaxton

    Great advice – and since I have a BIG presentation/proposal coming up in January- I WILL be implementing these levels into my preparation.  How timely! 

    Also, where would I look for “killer proposals” on the web?  I also need some knock-out hand-outs for this preposal…..if you can point me in a direction? 

    • Michael Hyatt

      I am not sure, Louise. I would start with Google.

  • TNeal

    In most cases, when I speak, I’m in a worship service as a guest preacher. I typically do what you described. I prepare my material. I prepare myself. I rarely use notes so I’ll go over my sermon the day before, once or twice in the morning before I leave the house, and probably once more in the car as I travel.

  • TNeal

    Prepare the setting. I’d add, from experience, prepare for the setting. During our CoMission days, our team in Russia spoke 3 to 5 times a week in public school settings. We used video as part of our presentation which was great unless we had a power outage (commonplace in Russia during the 90’s). We needed to prepare twice as hard if we didn’t want to appear less than professional among a hardworking group of teachers. We learned that lesson the hard way.

  • S a Praveen

    It is very interesting and helpful,

  • Hbbcpastor

    Hi Michael. I just wanted to thank you SO much for this post. As a busy Pastor this kind of information is like gold dust. I’m going to print this and discuss it at our next leaders meeting. Particularly the stuff about preping for questions. We’re in a Baptist Church and we often get floored by some unexpected question at a Members’ Meeting. I know it sounds daft but it’s never occurred to us to think about and prepare for objections in advance. Thanks again. Invaluable.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Great. Thanks.

      I think this will really help you. It will also give our team confidence as they lead this meeting, knowing that they are prepared.

  • Alice

    Mr. Hyatt, Thank you for the emails with these wonderful tips. I will speaking to a group of women soon and have been preparing for a month, reading applying to my own life what I will be sharing with them and your email today on the 7 steps is enlightening.  Thank you for your ongoing support.

  • Robert Ewoldt

    Michael, how much do you actually rehearse your speeches before giving them?  Has the amount of rehearsal decreased over time?

    • Michael Hyatt

      I rehearse 2–3 times before each speech, even if I have given it before. The amount of rehearsal has INCREASED over time, because I see the incredible value of it.

      • Robert Ewoldt


  • Brad Bridges

    Fantastic post, very practical, and something I needed as I prepare for the next couple months. 

  • Uma Maheswaran S

    Stories are more interesting. I have experienced that building a story as a better approach during our presentation.
    When we tell a story, immediately the minds of audience grow curious and try to relate the same to the presentation theme. Their minds always get excited and intrigued by a storyline. Through this story telling , we can have more questions and this is something that definitely can be leveraged in a presentation.

  • Diane Yuhas

    Absolutely excellent.  The best summary of presentation preparation I’ve ever read.  Thanks.

  • Patti Schieringa

    This was wonderful. It shows why my presentations, flopped. Once in high school when my journalism teacher sent me to the business students without me knowing my audience or what to present. 

    Last year, I was  excited to share how our evangelicalism efforts in the neighborhood would be 
     a community getting to know each other and learning how professionals in our church could empower them to get past technical and business roadblocks to use their skills. 
       My report was scheduled when the ad-hoc people left and the other news had been given.
    Next time, I’ll get some support beforehand. It was disconcerting to present when the leader was packing up and not paying attention. So the other two started packing up too.

    Your blogs are so on target. Thanks for all your real-life help. God may use me  as a better presenter.

  • Extreme John

    Preparation is very important indeed. It will help you ease your mind a bit and it will lessen your problems and burdens. Anyway, thank you for sharing this information.

  • Anonymous

    Loved this post and gleaned some useful advice.  My problem is that I’m speaking more regularly now as a senior pastor.  When I was an assistant, I spoke about once a week, and was sometimes able to devote 10 to 15 hours to one message.  Now, I’m speaking a minimum of three times per week, so I can’t commit as much time to each presentation.  It definitely affects the quality.

  • Simon

    Some of this is excellent. Some of it seems formulaic: people can spot spontaneity and originality and the absence of it. Thinking people react well to presentations that ask questions and don’t provide an easy answer, or that press a point but also point out a difficulty. This challenges them and treats them like adults.

    One point is vital and has perhaps been assumed here. Think about your audience. What do they want from you? It may not be identical to what the person ordering you or commissioning you to talk told you. What are their interests, their areas of knowledge, their fears? How might they misunderstand your message? Too many people do not consider these points, and then compound it by not picking up the signals that their audience is becoming hostile or losing interest.

  • Charlotte

    Thank you for the thorough post. I’d like to use the I Love Lucy clip during a team-building program next week. Question for Michael and others: How do you use the clip? As a discussion starter? Key points to cover? Thank you.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I use it in the beginning of my presentation to help the audience understand the problem: life is coming at them faster than they can process.

      • Charlotte

        Great, thank you kindly for the reply.

  • Anonymous

    These are some great points. I focus on practicing my sermon as many time as I can. I also make sure to prepare at least a week ahead of time so I fully know my points so that it flows.

  • Edwin Sarmiento

    Thanks for sharing these great tips on presentation. I’ve been doing technical presentations for years and, like some of us here, am a living proof of the difference between preparing for a presentation and just “winging it.” In the IT industry where presentations that include demonstrations are a must, it makes me wonder why a lot of presenters don’t rehearse with timing in mind. One specific example is demonstrating how to use a particular product feature. It’s great to show how things work and how you can demonstrate by doing it. But if it goes beyond the time allotted for your presentation, the audience will start ignoring you. Vendors will say that you have to demonstrate everything. I don’t buy that at all. That is why you need to define your objective and craft a storyline based on the objective to avoid trying to cover everything. I wrote a blog post a few months back about this when one of the attendees in my presentation commented on my delivery style.

    As part of the preparation, rehearsing is indeed very important. However, most people with limited budget would probably say that they cannot afford to do a rehearsal with all those fancy gears and tools. If you have a portable computer and a microphone, you can try recording your presentation as you go thru your slides. If you don’t have a GoToMeeting or Microsoft LiveMeting account, ask anybody you know who has on if they can lend you theirs for this purpose. I try to record myself delivering the presentation at least once to review how I was going, if the transition between slides and demos work well, how I properly use pauses, the tone of my voice, etc. The recording will also give me an idea how much time it takes to deliver the presentation without the Q&A portion.  It’s also a great alternative if you don’t want to or cannot rehearse in front of a mock audience.

    Technology is just a tool. We are the presenters. Being in the IT field, there’s no way I can deliver a presentation without a laptop or a notebook. However, I try to do so without slides – maybe a slide with just the title, my name and contact information. I get different reactions every time I do this because we have trained the attendees to expect slides. And I try to limit text on my slides, thanks to Garr Reynold’s book Presentation Zen and Nancy Duarte’s book slide:ology. This shift in presentation style and delivery has reaped different reactions from a technical audience, again, simply because they were trained to listen to presentations with a lot of text and a list of product features. 

    Having a backup plan is definitely a must. For us technology professionals, it’s not just a matter of having backup slides but rather having backup laptops with the appropriate configuration as per the demonstration that we want to show. We prepare for situations where the presentation laptop went bust a few minutes before we start. And it’s not that simple :-)

    Final words: Presentations are about the audience, not the presenter. The sooner we get this concept initially in the preparation phase, the better the outcome will be

  • Derlierprossy

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    until I finished, even though it wasn’t just what I had been searching
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  • Mconnolly002

    Excellent summary. I really appreciate the points that you have made. I have learned a few of these the hard way, your list is very complete. Thanks.

  • How To Get A Record Deal

    excellent tips, thanks

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  • Aleem Akhtar

    I love your suggestion but one thing I want to share that all 7 levels are already in my memory , I learned how to sharp these, is this blessing of God???

  • Jordan mccormick

    I make sure I am following the guy kawasaki 10-20-30 rule and I try to learn something unique to the audience I am presenting to, and I try to relate my stories I share to the unique attribute(s) of that audience. I was super impressed when I sw a keynote speaker do that I have borrowed that tactic and made it my own.